Are Pot-Friendly Coffee Shops About to Become a Thing in America?

In Washington and Colorado, savvy business owners are trying to bring "marijuana bars" to life, but there remain hurdles. Here are just a few questions standing between pot smokers and a new proliferation of stateside coffee shops:

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Just like Amsterdam, smoking pot is now legal in Washington and in Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law Monday. Unlike Amsterdam, though, we all have to figure out a couple of tricky questions about what this means on a federal level before business owners in those states start opening up "coffee shops" of their own. When we refer to coffee shops, we're referring to the 220 public places in Amsterdam where you're still legally allowed to consume and purchase marijuana. In Washington and Colorado, savvy business owners are in the beginning stages of trying to bring pot-friendly bars to life or at least throwing out the idea there to journalists. But there remain some pesky hurdles. Here are just a few questions standing between pot smokers and a new proliferation of stateside coffee shops:

The Federal Government Still Doesn't Like the Idea: Remember when the popular theory out there was that Obama could use weed legalization as leverage in swing states like Colorado? Well, it turns out that his administration isn't really a fan (on the other hand, it'd be all kinds of awkward to see the President to spurn federal law). This is a lumbering, looming dilemma: Even though it's legal to smoke weed in Colorado and Washington, people who do so are still committing a federal crime. And the Obama administration is thinking of legal actions that it can take on a state level. And do shop owners really want to take on the federal government?

The Whole Issue of What's Private: The Seattle Police Department has stressed that smoking pot privately is totally legal and that they won't be knocking on your door while you get high and watch Yo Gabba Gabba! Conversely, the cops do say that smoking pot in public spaces is highly discouraged. So one step to skirt the issue is to become a private lounge, as hookah bars have done: "Hookah lounges have tried to carve out an exception to the indoor smoking ban, arguing they are private clubs," reports The Seattle Times's Jonathan Martin.

... And That Pesky Smoking Ban: This sort of folds into the "private" issue, but in Washington there's a state-wide smoking ban that's been intact since 2006. Smoking pot would kind of be lumped into the cigarette smoking ban, and could be enforced in the same kind of way. One man, a Frank Scnharr, doesn't have to abide by the ban because of homework he he did in the past. "In order to flout it, Schnarr renamed his establishment's smoking-friendly second floor as 'Friends of Frankie's,' a private room limited to those who pay a $10 annual membership fee," reports Reuters's Jonathan Kaminsky. Schnarr is one step closer than most bar owners to getting his pot bar.

Employees Would Be Hard to Find: No, no, we're sure there will be people out there who are more than happy to serve mozzarella sticks to stoned individuals. The hard part is that the smoking ban (again!) was enacted largely to protect the health of employees. Kevin Oliver, another prospective "coffee shop" business man, wants to open an "Elks Lodge of cannabis." But, as the Seattle Times's Martin points out, it would have to be staffed by... nobody. "For Oliver’s idea to fly, the NORML clubhouse likely wouldn’t be able to have employees, because the state indoor smoking ban clearly protects them from second-hand inhalation," writes Martin. That's sort of not fun unless Oliver is thinking of employing cyborgs. Why not just hang out with your friends and order in if no one's there to serve you pizza and beer?

The Party-Foulers: This is more of a problem in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, where those coffee shops do xist, but officials in the Netherlands were so very close to passing a law that required coffee shops to be members-only because lawmakers believed drug-related tourism created a bunch of problems like an increase in crime. That would be annoying, right? Like drunk college kids, but maybe worse? Schnarr has already thought about that possibility. "I'll have security in here, and if I see a bunch of guys just trying to get ripped, they're gone," said Schnarr, the pot-bar owner to be.

The Vaporizer Loophole: Since a lot of these logistics have to deal with smoke, we wondered if vaporizers would be a way out. According to Martin, public health officials are taking that into account.

All that said, not even people in the federal government are sure if anyone would be breaking the law with these private pot speakeasies. "Marijuana remains illegal under federal law," Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office told Reuters. "I can't tell you whether what he's [Schnarr] doing is legal or not." And that's not necessarily bad news for bar owners like Frankie Schnarr.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.